What is Chemotherapy?
How chemotherapy drugs are given?
- Chemotherapy infusions. Chemotherapy is most often given as an infusion into a vein (intravenously). The drugs can be given by inserting a tube with a needle into a vein in your arm or into a device in a vein in your chest.
- Chemotherapy pills. Some chemotherapy drugs can be taken in pill or capsule form.
- Chemotherapy shots. Chemotherapy drugs can be injected with a needle, just as you would receive a shot.
- Chemotherapy creams. Creams or gels containing chemotherapy drugs can be applied to the skin to treat certain types of skin cancer.
- Chemotherapy drugs used to treat one area of the body. Chemotherapy drugs can be given directly to one area of the body. For instance, chemotherapy drugs can be given directly in the abdomen (intraperitoneal chemotherapy), chest cavity (intrapleural chemotherapy) or central nervous system (intrathecal chemotherapy). Chemotherapy can also be given through the urethra into the bladder (intravesical chemotherapy).
- Chemotherapy given directly to the Cancer. Chemotherapy can be given directly to the cancer or, after surgery, where the cancer once was. As an example, thin disk-shaped wafers containing chemotherapy drugs can be placed near a tumor during surgery. The wafers break down over time, releasing chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy drugs may also be injected into a vein or artery that directly feeds a tumor.
Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells in people with cancer. There are a variety of settings in which chemotherapy may be used in people with cancer:
- To cure the cancer without other treatments. Chemotherapy can be used as the primary or sole treatment for cancer.
- After other treatments, to kill hidden cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be used after other treatments, such as surgery, to kill any cancer cells that might remain in the body. Doctors call this adjuvant therapy.
- To prepare you for other treatments. Chemotherapy can be used to shrink a tumor so that other treatments, such as radiation and surgery, are possible. Doctors call this neoadjuvant therapy.
- To ease signs and symptoms. Chemotherapy may help relieve signs and symptoms of cancer by killing some of the cancer cells. Doctors call this palliative chemotherapy.
How often you receive chemotherapy treatments
Your doctor determines how often you’ll receive chemotherapy treatments based on what drugs you’ll receive, the characteristics of your cancer and how well your body recovers after each treatment. Chemotherapy treatment schedules vary. Chemotherapy treatment can be continuous, or it may alternate between periods of treatment and periods of rest to let you recover.
What to expect
Chemotherapy is an invasive treatment that can have severe adverse effects both during the therapy and for some time after. This is because the drugs often target both cancer cells and healthy cells. However, early treatment involving chemotherapy can sometimes achieve a complete cure. This makes the side effects worthwhile for many. Also, most of the unwanted symptoms go away after treatment finishes.
How will I feel during chemotherapy?
There’s no way to know for sure. It depends on your overall health, the type of cancer you have, how far along it is, and the amount and type of chemotherapy drugs. Your genes may also play a part. It’s common to feel ill or very tired after chemotherapy. You can prepare for this by getting someone to drive you back and forth from treatment. You should also plan to rest on the day of and the day after treatment. During this time, it may help to get some help with meals and child care, if necessary. Your doctor may be able to help you manage some of the more severe side effects of chemotherapy.
Can I work during chemotherapy?
The most common side effects are:
- Feeling sick to your stomach or throwing up
- Feeling less hungry than usual
- Weight loss
- Feeling weak and tired
- Diarrhea (frequent, loose, or watery poop)
- Losing your hair
- Mouth or nose sores
- Trouble breathing or chest pain
- Low blood count (anemia)
- Feeling dizzy